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Irish public warned about spread of giant South American rodents

Coypu
Coypu

The public have been warned of the spread of a large rodent which may have been first brought to Ireland as a pet.

Native to South America, the coypu is one of the biggest rodents in the world, weighing between five and seven kg and measuring a metre long.

Also known as the river rat, it is often mistaken for an otter but can be identified by its long, round tail and orange or yellow teeth.

Colette O’Flynn, Invasive Species Officer for the National Biodiversity Data centre told Independent.ie it is unusual to see a coypu in the wild in Ireland.

"It is known mainly for being a pet species. It is likely that someone brought one or more here as a pet and they escaped into the wild," O’Flynn said.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service say they have trapped 10 coypus in or around the Curraheen area in Cork since the original sighting of the creature in the River Curaheen two years ago.

O’Flynn said that the rodent can cause damage to the environment if it is not properly monitored or controlled.

"This is all about understanding what we’re dealing with here by finding out how many coypu there are in the area now. We need to ascertain how spread out they are from where the first one was seen," O’Flynn said.

"The problem is coypus are herbivores. They only eat plants, which means they will eat a lot of the riverside vegetation which other wildlife in the area depend on.

"They are also known to burrow into riverbanks, which can cause banks to either destabilise or collapse completely."

The NPWS are now urging the public to inform them of any sightings of the creature in an attempt to monitor its spread.

The say they will use information compiled from the public to assist in baiting areas and setting traps.

The coypu was last spotted in the Lee Fields in Cork City a week ago, according to the Irish Examiner.

“If someone sees a coypu, it’s fine if they get a photo. The main thing to let us know is the location, date and time,” Danny O’Keeffe, NWPS south-west region conservation ranger told the Irish Examiner.

It is hoped that keeping track of the spread of coypus will prevent longer-term costs with dealing with the species, with an estimated £2.5 million (€2.95m) being spent by the UK towards eradicating the coypu.

Daniel O'Connor